Inhaled corticosteroids are known to reduce respiratory symptoms and airway responsiveness in allergic patients with asthma. The aim of the present randomised, double blind study was to assess the effect of eight weeks' treatment with inhaled budesonide in non-allergic smokers with chronic obstructive lung disease. Twenty four subjects (23 male) entered the study. Their ages ranged from 40 to 70 (mean 57) years, with a mean of 35 (range 9-80) pack years of smoking; the mean FEV1 was 53% (range 32-74%) predicted and geometric mean PC20 (histamine concentration causing a 20% fall in FEV1) 0.96 (range 0.07-7.82) mg/ml. After a two week washout, single blind, placebo period, 12 patients were allocated to treatment with budesonide 1600 microgram/day and 12 to placebo for eight weeks. The only additional drug to be taken was ipratropium bromide "if needed." Twenty one patients completed the study, 10 in the budesonide group and 11 in the placebo group. The standard deviation of the difference between duplicate measurements of PC20 histamine and citric acid cough threshold made two weeks apart was below one doubling dose step. There was a significant reduction in dyspnoea in the budesonide group, but otherwise no change in symptom scores or use of ipratropium bromide over the eight weeks of treatment within or between the two groups. No significant differences in spirometric values, peak expiratory flow, PC20 histamine, or citric acid cough threshold were found between the groups. Although differences were not significant, some of the changes showed a trend in favour of budesonide. Whether a longer observation period would show a significant influence of inhaled corticosteroids in patients with chronic obstructive lung disease remains to be determined.
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